Acts 25:13b-21
Jn 21:15-19


The central point of today’s Gospel is Jesus’ healing and restoration of Peter. Jesus calls him Simon, his name before he was a disciple. He gives him a three-fold opportunity to undo his three denials made near a charcoal fire. The third questioning agitates Peter because it is painful reminder of the three denials. It becomes a moment of healing. By this other charcoal fire, Jesus fully reinstates Peter. The Good Shepherd now directs Peter to be a shepherd-leader.

This passage has always interested me, especially after an exegesis that was popular some years ago. Jesus and Peter seem to have their wires crossed. Two of three times, Jesus and Peter are using different words for ‘love.’ In his first two questions, Jesus uses the verb associated with agape, which we see as the ideal of Christian love, but Peter replies that he loves with philos, the love of dear friends. The third time, John has Jesus asking about friendship love and Peter replies affirmatively with friendship love. This analysis would confirm that Jesus deals with us at whatever level of love we have for him; and Jesus points to our potential growth in love, as seen in Peter’s future agape-love leading to his death.

Today most Scripture scholars give little significance to any deliberate interplay of these verbs by John. The difference between the two verbs was minimal in the first century, so that they were used interchangeably, as John’s Gospel does elsewhere. While I now concede that, our faith still tells us that Jesus meets us where we are, recognises our failings and calls us greater love.

Peter needed this restoration. He had to come to terms with his past. Having abandoned Jesus, how could he fulfil his previous call to leadership? Peter’s situation has lessons for us. It is possible to sin and to love at the same time, or at least close together. All of us can and do both sin and love Jesus because we may be only half-hearted in our love and thankfully, only half-hearted in our sin. As with Peter, Jesus recognises our efforts to love even with these failings.

John McGrath is a parishioner of St Brigid’s Marrickville.